When Father John McClellan, an artificial intelligence expert and retired marine, investigates the murder of a covert Dominican priest on a vast space station that tries to ban faith, he does his job while shepherding the hidden faithful. McClellan’s gentle guidance focuses the fast-paced mystery: He is a strong-willed soldier for Christ whose deep well of compassion flows from a love of Jesus. Patenaude has accomplished a rarity: a science fiction story of faith that neither descends into the saccharine nor limits the power of faith in a science-driven world.
Chinese author Liu’s near-future story of an obsessed scientist is both a cautionary tale and a celebration of science’s power to reshape knowledge. When Chen’s parents are turned to ash by ball lightning, he becomes consumed with discovering the weather phenomenon’s cause. Imitating Robinson Crusoe’s confessional style, Chen relates his own musings on science in his single-minded pursuit of truth. In this story, science consumes lives. Even as its successes bring fleeting happiness, science can through failure expand our understanding of the universe. Liu’s riveting novel reminds us of the dangers and rewards of the all-too-human need to know.
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds
Stephen Leeds solves cases of corporate espionage. He also sees people who are not there, each a representation of knowledge or a skill set buried deep in Leeds’ subconscious. His hallucinations make him the best problem-solver in the business, but they are also his greatest weakness. In this three-novella set, Sanderson’s mind-bending near-future thriller attracts readers with its relatable, misunderstood middle-manager hero, then keeps them engaged with madcap action, hilarious dialogue, and the ever-present danger of descending madness. This witty and thought-provoking story is a wonderful cross between buddy comedy and the movie Inception.
Peter F. Hamilton
Hamilton is a master at creating realistic future societies. In 2204, an investigative team tries to discover where an alien ship (discovered on a new planet) came from and what it means for humankind. Hamilton’s tense novel alternates various storylines: the investigative team’s intertwined mercenaries’ histories, corporate espionage, failed relationships, an advanced technology, a secretive alien race hidden in plain sight, and the strange far future. The reader will wonder how all the different pieces connect in this first volume of a promising series. (Cautions: sexual references and profanity)
Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar, two popular tabletop role-playing games, bear the tagline “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.” These spawned the subgenre of science fiction and fantasy known as “grimdark.” The tone, style, and setting of grimdark are particularly gruesome, depraved, and violent. Characters embrace their baser natures, heroes are often false or self-deceiving, and most forces are malevolent.
It was surprising, then, when publisher Black Library announced it would publish a grimdark series for readers ages 8-12, beginning in February 2019. Warhammer Adventures are age-appropriate books (based on my reading of pre-released chapters) written by experienced writers, but they are still an introduction to a world of stories that prides itself on the inclusion of sex, violence, and profanity. Parents and young readers should approach them with caution. —J.O.
Two books worth reading side by side are Gideon Rachman’s Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline: From Obama to Trump and Beyond(Other Press, 2017) and Carl Minzner’s End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise (Oxford, 2018).
Rachman’s doesn’t need much introduction because these days its message is standard, and it might be true: Asia (and particularly China) up, the West receding. Minzner’s is a minority report about “eye-popping contradictions for the vanguard of the proletariat,” with 160 of China’s wealthiest in the Communist Party Congress, or the national legislature, and their total worth—about $221 billion—20 times greater than the total worth of the 660 top officials in the U.S. government.
Minzner notes a surge in Chinese debt and a “potentially dramatic slowdown in economic growth.” He notes that early in this century “a generation of crusading and muckraking journalists arose,” but Xi Jinping has cracked down while simultaneously becoming known as “Papa Xi,” as Stalin was known as “Uncle Joe.” Minzner describes “the closing of the Chinese dream,” as colleges admit urban youth with expensive private tutors and freeze out rural or migrant students who have “spent winters shivering in an unheated, dilapidated classroom.”
As journalists report less, poor workers protest more. “Direct action” includes “blocking roads and construction projects, or mobilizing hundreds of supporters to encircle government buildings and engage in defiant, face-to-face negotiations with officials.” Furthermore, thanks to the finally (and belatedly) abrogated one-child policy, “China is now graying more rapidly than any other major economy in history.”
Princeton University Press has out an enjoyable way to absorb two key books of traditional Chinese thinking that President Xi Jinping has popularized again: The Analects of Confucius and The Art of War by Sunzi, both playfully illustrated by C.C. Tsai. Some wisdom from the former: “If a gentleman is deferential and cautious, if he treats others with respect and propriety, then everyone will consider him his brother.” Some advice of the latter: “A commander who has to win at any cost is likely to be cut down by the enemy. … A commander with an explosive temper who is easily angered is likely to be moved by enemy insults.”
Andrzej Franaszek and Aleksandra Parker’s Milosz: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2017) is heavy going concerning the Polish poet who outlived Nazism and Communism, but Milosz deserves praise both for bravery and for flipping atheist bias in this lapidary line: “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders are not going to be judged.” Real solace comes from believing in life after death, with a righteous and compassionate Judge.
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by Emily Whitten
The Fellowship of the Ring
British author Tolkien published The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954 as the first book in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this epic fantasy, hobbits band together with others in Middle Earth to destroy an evil lord’s ring of power. Free audiobook versions abound on the web, though some listeners may prefer Rob Inglis’ simple narration of the unabridged text from 2012 ($38.49 on Audible.com). Those who want to dig deeper into Tolkien’s use of Biblical Christology can pair an audio version with Philip Ryken’s 2017 book, The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth.
The God Who is There
In 1965, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer gave a 10-part address at Wheaton College. The talks touched on philosophy, art, science, and culture, as Schaeffer applied the Biblical worldview to modern challenges. Three years later, Schaeffer turned those talks into The God Who Is There, now available from Blackstone Audio with narration by John Lescault. While hearing Lescault’s voice can’t match hearing Schaeffer himself (Schaeffer apparently shone brightest in person), the audiobook includes James W. Sire’s 30th anniversary introduction.
The Valley of Vision
Bennett, an English-born minister, drew from Puritan writers including John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon to create this book in 1975. Dwelling on themes of God’s sovereignty and man’s humility, Bennett compiled or wrote more than 150 prayers for the project, including titles like “Praise and Thanksgiving” and “Mortification.” While Banner of Truth Trust offers at least two print versions, audiobook fans may enjoy the dramatic intensity of Max McLean’s Listener’s Valley of Vision, available from Ligonier Ministries.
Here I Stand
Bainton’s classic work from 1950, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, remains a popular biography of the Reformer—and for good reason. Bainton exhibits a scholar’s grasp of the theological issues at play, combining insightful analysis with extensive historical footnotes. He paints a sympathetic portrait of Luther, with an emphasis on Luther’s stand for Biblical authority at the Diet of Worms. Bainton also acknowledges some of Luther’s shortcomings, including anti-Semitism. Tom Weiner’s 2011 audiobook version by Blackstone Audio captures the story with deep resonance.